Barefoot Running. ~ Michael Sandler

Via on May 6, 2010

playful barefoot runners in the desert

I fell into barefoot running entirely by accident—literally.

On April second of 2006 I was injured in a near-death accident.

I’d been inline skating on a Boulder bike path as I trained for a world-record attempt, a 4,000-mile, solo coast-to-coast skate to help children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. I’d done a similar journey in 2004, a 5,000 mile, 40-day, solo, unsupported bike ride across the U.S., which got me invited to speak in Washington, D.C. before the House and Senate.

On this day I had taken off my skates to meditate in the river—to clear my mind and pray for safety and guidance. Then I laced up my skates and pushed off. I’d been listening to Dr. Wayne Dyer’s audiobook Inspiration on my MP3 player. He’d just shared a beautiful story about a butterfly that landed in his hands, before saying “everything happens for a reason.”

As I began skating again, I told myself to go slow, aware that on Sundays there would be tourists on the path. I didn’t expect what happened next. A father from out of town, teaching his baby son how to walk, inadvertently stepped out onto the bike path right before me.

In a split second I had a choice. Hit the baby? Or hit the deck?

I somehow (through the grace of God) managed to throw myself up and backward—a move that would have made an Olympic high-jumper proud.

As I went through the air, I wondered if I’d still be able to do my cross-country skate.

Then as I landed with a dull concussive thud, I had my answer. I was broken—and badly. But the baby and dad were all right.

The words of Dr. Dyer resonated through my head, “Everything happens for a reason.”

I wiggled my fingers, then my toes, then looked at the father, the boy, and the sun shining above. Life is good. I thought. Life is good.

And then, as I lay on the ground like a splayed, broken chicken, I grabbed my left leg, held my breath and pulled it over to my right. This move likely saved my life. It turns out shards of my femur were less than a centimeter from my femoral artery. Had I moved wrong, or perhaps left my leg in that position, I would have bled to death.

michael's xray broken femur

Doctors didn’t know if they could put my leg back together. But I knew something amazing would come of this experience.

And something did.

Though I now have a titanium femur and hip but no left ACL and have chalked up a total of 10 knee operations, not to mention having the “world’s flattest (and worst) feet” as labeled by podiatrist after podiatrist, I now run 10 to 20 miles a day, barefoot.

Doctors said I’d never be able to run again, that I’d be lucky to keep my leg, and lucky to walk. But it was only by feeling the ground, by connecting to the earth, that I was able to heal, get balanced and run again, despite one leg being shorter than the other.

I’ve been a professional athlete and coach for the better part of 20 years, but not in the barefoot running world. However, with the inspiration of Jessica Lee, I now coach, write and speak before others about barefoot running, healing and connecting to the earth.

From Broken to Barefoot

After finding my way out of a rehab hospital, I ventured into nature to heal. At first, I could crutch only a few hundred yards, alternating deep breathing and meditation to block the pain. But then, over time, my body relaxed and began to grow stronger.

I went from a few hundred yards to a few miles. I even crutched the Bolder Boulder 10K, and then the Denver Half-Marathon. I wanted to demonstrate how much we can accomplish if we believe in ourselves, no matter what.

From there I continued to spend more time in nature. Crutching each morning before the sunrise, and then back again at dusk. I found something special at these times of the day, something sacred in the silence.

Being forced to go slow, I began viewing the world in a different way too. I was seeing things differently, more vividly, and with vibrant color. One morning I stopped to stare at the dewdrop on a leaf, just as the sun began to rise. I began to see all the colors of the rainbow in that drop. It inspired me, and I began to cry. I soon began carrying my camera and capturing amazing healing pictures both at sunrise and sunset.

And I continued to heal. I went from crutching, to walking and then to jogging. Trouble was, once I tried running, my body began to fall apart. With a nearly 1-inch leg length discrepancy, I couldn’t get balanced, no matter how much I tried. I went from one overuse injury to another.

It was frustrating being out on the trails, or out on the roads, stopping to modify my insoles or orthotics on the fly, stuffing another heel wedge here or trimming more cork there. Having worked with custom insoles and orthotics in the past, I was a walking insole modification store. And yet I couldn’t get it right.

I wanted to scream out profanities, or just cry on the trails. Why couldn’t I run pain-free?

And then one day, I accidentally stumbled upon the solution. As I was struggling on a hot summer’s “run,” future Olympic champion Constantina Diţă, training in Boulder’s high altitude, flew by me with a smile. I so desperately wanted to run like her: with a smile, without effort and without suffering. In agony, I was frustrated and out of ideas. I didn’t even know how to get home without more grisly pain. And so, I took off my shoes and limped home.

It was the best thing I ever could have done.

At home on a Google search, I stumbled across an article by prominent orthopedic surgeon Dr. Froncioni entitled, Athletic Footwear and Running Injuries: Essay on the Earmful Effects of Modern Running Shoes. Since I’d just walked home barefoot, I decided to read the article. My jaw hit the floor.

Fewer injuries in less expensive shoes than in more expensive ones. Higher impact in a shoe than out. Perceived safety of cushioning actually harms feet. Better balance and control in thinner, less cushioned shoes. Children in third-world countries far less likely to have fallen arches and foot problems. The insights went on and on.

And so, two days later, I decided to give it a try. After all, I was already broken. What did I have to lose?

I went out and jogged 100 yards on the local bike path. Then I walked home, grabbing the ground with my toes, trying to strengthen my arches.

And then I iced for two days straight.

On the third day I went out again. This time a bit farther, 200 yards. And then again, I iced.

Two days later I repeated, 300 yards. Then 400 yards.

Going out every other day I began to get stronger and stronger.

Within three months I’d adapted on the roads, running 10K’s and running them fast—faster than I ever had in a shoe. And that was just the beginning. Now I’m running barefoot on trails, gravel, snow, hot melting asphalt and more. I run 10 to 20 miles a day without shoes, and love running up hills, if not mountains, grabbing with my toes and bounding along. I’m even known to chase a cyclist or two on the road.

How did I do this despite being barefoot? Because being barefoot wasn’t the hindrance. Wearing shoes was. Because I was wearing shoes, I couldn’t feel the ground, modulate impact, learn to run light or get balanced. Once I took off my shoes, my feet began to wake up, to grow strong and become springs. I became aware and in doing so became light, nimble, and far more efficient. I was no longer running, but dancing on the roads, with nature and with my surroundings.

My perception of the world around me changed too, as I become one with my world, rather than one trying to conquer it. I became more peaceful and quiet, as the incessant chatter of the mind melted away. And my running transformed—from a run to a dance, a dance with nature, a dance with my surroundings, a dance to heal and a dance of joy.

Why on earth would anyone want to run barefoot?

Or an even more logical question: How could something we have for free—our bare feet—be better than cushioned athletic shoes that cost $150?

For many, it seems counterintuitive that running barefoot could be superior to running shod. After all, shoes are designed to protect our feet, and modern running shoes are created by experts working with cutting-edge science and technology to maximize our comfort and safety.

What’s seldom mentioned is that these increasingly expensive shoes have done nothing to reduce runner injuries. On the contrary, injuries—to Achilles tendons, tibias, knees and other essential body parts—have been going up over the years along with shoe prices. Just as surprising was a study that showed runners using shoes costing $95 and up had more than twice as many injuries as those wearing shoes costing $40 or less.

The truth is that running in shoes is high impact, heel-centric, promotes bad form, is relatively unstable and inflexible, tends to weaken rather than strengthen your feet and dampens your connection to the world around you.

In contrast, barefoot running is low-impact, toe-centric, promotes good form, enhances stability and adaptability, strengthens your feet in miraculous ways and provides delightful sensory and spiritual connections to the earth.

When you feel the ground, you unlock the hidden potential within. Wearing shoes demolishes that process. It’s not impossible to have good form with shoes on, but it’s harder and requires a lot more conscious effort.

In his bestselling book Born to Run, Christopher McDougall talks about running light. This is an essential skill for barefoot running. When we run light, we put less pressure on our joints and muscles, which allows us to run easier, longer, and with fewer injuries.

Indeed, a way to identify which runners have good form is to simply close your eyes and listen.

When I recently visited the running path at New York’s Central Park, I could pick out the bad runners because I heard them coming from a block away: Clomp! Clomp! Clomp! with their heavily-cushioned shoes striking hard, heel first, onto the paved ground.

The runners with the best form, however, barely made a sound.

When you go barefoot running, listen to the sound your feet make on impact. The more silent you are, the more likely that you’re staying on the balls of your feet … and achieving perfect strides.

The path to going barefoot must be a slow, gradual process, which is explained in my new book Barefoot Running: How to Run Light and Free by Getting in Touch with the Earth.

Michael Sandler and his coauthor Jessica Lee are currently on a cross-country trek giving barefoot running clinics to interested runners and novices. You can follow their path online.

Michael Sandler is a national fitness and running coach, as well as the cofounder of RunBare Company. Michael has coached world-class athletes to wins in cycling, running and triathlons for over 20 years at the local, national and international levels.

Among Michael’s personal athletic achievements are training for the 1992 and 1996 Olympics in both cycling and speed skating at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

He is also author of the best-selling book College Confidence with ADD and founder of The Creative Learning Institute, a national center for coaching students with ADD and learning disabilities.

Jessica Lee, also an accomplished athlete, went on to found the nation’s largest barefoot running club in Boulder, followed by the co-founding of RunBare Company. Today she can be found running light and free again and kicking Michael’s butt in a sprint.

Together, Michael and Jessica enjoy starting each day with a barefoot sunrise hike and meditation before launching into the joyful work that lies ahead.

About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive. Questions? info elephantjournal com

6,010 views

If you liked this, you might like these:

22 Responses to “Barefoot Running. ~ Michael Sandler”

  1. Sarah says:

    This is so true and amazing… THANK YOU… I am going to spread this to my friends…. It's what I am facing right now… THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing….

  2. viahttp://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal
    Shea Gunther
    A bunch of my ultimate frisbee friends run barefoot together. I like my shoes but run barefoot style- I land on my toes/ball of the foot instead of my heel. I'm rocking the NP Green Silence which are nice and thin.

    elephantjournal.com
    What's NP Green Silence?

    Sarah Richelle Starnes
    vibram five finger shoes are a nice warm up to barefoot running… I love barefoot hiking myself :)

    Gaby Doman
    I LOVE barefoot running. I think it's the best way to learn to run. I learnt like that and now use the technique whether I run with or without trainers. I always prefer barefoot where possible though… it just makes you more mindful of where you're planting your feet!

    Ian Mildon
    loving my Vibram FiveFingers as I retrain myself away from shoes

    Alli Braus Fronzaglia
    Just finished reading Born to Run — fascinating book! I highly recommend it! (And I'm not even a runner)

    Mike St.Germain
    Born and raised in the south, we don't do shoes down here anyway. When I used to run, before I was fat, I ran barefoot (barefeet? Barefooted?)

    Aaron Scott Freeman
    I don't run much, but when I do I do it in my Vibrams. It took a while to get used to, but it feels so much more natural. However, I don't think I'll ever be able to run barefoot, at least not near my house. Too much glass etc in the streets… -_-

    Gaby Doman
    I need to get some Vibrams. It's far too cold to run barefoot in the UK at the moment!

    Lisa K-hilts
    My brothers and I went practically everywhere barefoot. Unfortunately like Aaron said, there's so much human litter that it's hard to enjoy the feel of the grass with so much potential glass.

  3. viahttp://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal
    Shea Gunther
    A bunch of my ultimate frisbee friends run barefoot together. I like my shoes but run barefoot style- I land on my toes/ball of the foot instead of my heel. I'm rocking the NP Green Silence which are nice and thin.

    elephantjournal.com
    What's NP Green Silence?

    Sarah Richelle Starnes
    vibram five finger shoes are a nice warm up to barefoot running… I love barefoot hiking myself :)

    Gaby Doman
    I LOVE barefoot running. I think it's the best way to learn to run. I learnt like that and now use the technique whether I run with or without trainers. I always prefer barefoot where possible though… it just makes you more mindful of where you're planting your feet!

    Ian Mildon
    loving my Vibram FiveFingers as I retrain myself away from shoes

    Alli Braus Fronzaglia
    Just finished reading Born to Run — fascinating book! I highly recommend it! (And I'm not even a runner)

    Mike St.Germain
    Born and raised in the south, we don't do shoes down here anyway. When I used to run, before I was fat, I ran barefoot (barefeet? Barefooted?)

    Aaron Scott Freeman
    I don't run much, but when I do I do it in my Vibrams. It took a while to get used to, but it feels so much more natural. However, I don't think I'll ever be able to run barefoot, at least not near my house. Too much glass etc in the streets… -_-

    Gaby Doman
    I need to get some Vibrams. It's far too cold to run barefoot in the UK at the moment!

    Lisa K-hilts
    My brothers and I went practically everywhere barefoot. Unfortunately like Aaron said, there's so much human litter that it's hard to enjoy the feel of the grass with so much potential glass.

  4. viahttp://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal
    Shea Gunther
    A bunch of my ultimate frisbee friends run barefoot together. I like my shoes but run barefoot style- I land on my toes/ball of the foot instead of my heel. I'm rocking the NP Green Silence which are nice and thin.

    elephantjournal.com
    What's NP Green Silence?

    Sarah Richelle Starnes
    vibram five finger shoes are a nice warm up to barefoot running… I love barefoot hiking myself :)

    Gaby Doman
    I LOVE barefoot running. I think it's the best way to learn to run. I learnt like that and now use the technique whether I run with or without trainers. I always prefer barefoot where possible though… it just makes you more mindful of where you're planting your feet!

    Ian Mildon
    loving my Vibram FiveFingers as I retrain myself away from shoes

    Alli Braus Fronzaglia
    Just finished reading Born to Run — fascinating book! I highly recommend it! (And I'm not even a runner)

    Mike St.Germain
    Born and raised in the south, we don't do shoes down here anyway. When I used to run, before I was fat, I ran barefoot (barefeet? Barefooted?)

    Aaron Scott Freeman
    I don't run much, but when I do I do it in my Vibrams. It took a while to get used to, but it feels so much more natural. However, I don't think I'll ever be able to run barefoot, at least not near my house. Too much glass etc in the streets… -_-

    Gaby Doman
    I need to get some Vibrams. It's far too cold to run barefoot in the UK at the moment!

    Lisa K-hilts
    My brothers and I went practically everywhere barefoot. Unfortunately like Aaron said, there's so much human litter that it's hard to enjoy the feel of the grass with so much potential glass.

  5. viahttp://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal
    Shea Gunther
    A bunch of my ultimate frisbee friends run barefoot together. I like my shoes but run barefoot style- I land on my toes/ball of the foot instead of my heel. I'm rocking the NP Green Silence which are nice and thin.

    elephantjournal.com
    What's NP Green Silence?

    Sarah Richelle Starnes
    vibram five finger shoes are a nice warm up to barefoot running… I love barefoot hiking myself :)

    Gaby Doman
    I LOVE barefoot running. I think it's the best way to learn to run. I learnt like that and now use the technique whether I run with or without trainers. I always prefer barefoot where possible though… it just makes you more mindful of where you're planting your feet!

    Ian Mildon
    loving my Vibram FiveFingers as I retrain myself away from shoes

    Alli Braus Fronzaglia
    Just finished reading Born to Run — fascinating book! I highly recommend it! (And I'm not even a runner)

    Mike St.Germain
    Born and raised in the south, we don't do shoes down here anyway. When I used to run, before I was fat, I ran barefoot (barefeet? Barefooted?)

    Aaron Scott Freeman
    I don't run much, but when I do I do it in my Vibrams. It took a while to get used to, but it feels so much more natural. However, I don't think I'll ever be able to run barefoot, at least not near my house. Too much glass etc in the streets… -_-

    Gaby Doman
    I need to get some Vibrams. It's far too cold to run barefoot in the UK at the moment!

    Lisa K-hilts
    My brothers and I went practically everywhere barefoot. Unfortunately like Aaron said, there's so much human litter that it's hard to enjoy the feel of the grass with so much potential glass.

  6. Artemis Kalliste says:

    GREAT POST!! While I am not shoe-free yet, I am working my way there. I run on some pretty harsh rock/desert terrain in Texas. I loved "Born to Run" and have given several copies to friends, but the most fun is running up on white-tailed deer, when they don't hear you coming!

  7. lighthasmass says:

    This is a great account of barefoot running. Here is a recent study done of barefoot running.
    http://www.trailrunnermag.com/article.php?id=132&

  8. neil gallan says:

    for normal shoe wearing activities,http://www.terraplana.com/ I have 2 pairs and they are basically the only shoes I wear now. Designed to simulate the bare foot, they are slightly more hygienic than walking around town and the office barefoot and more stylish… in some of their designs.
    Last week I saw someone running by me on the sidewalk in NYC barefoot , I just thought, "gross"…. we were in Chinatown. But because of this article and attached video I will try running barefoot on pavement, but I will take off my shoes once I arrive at the park. Thanks for this post.

  9. I've been a supporter of bare feet my entire life. They are what we are created with, which means they're next to perfection. I've been walking around, running around and even hiking barefoot ever since I was a kid. Hot spots in hiking boots happen, but they don't with bare feet! Go bare! I just wish more businesses would be more barefoot friendly.
    Fantastic article. I love love love it!

  10. Heather Grimes says:

    What an interesting article!

  11. [...] these sort of adult games, canned libations in beer-coozies were often part of the mix. I remember running around in very close proximity to these games as a kid, skipping and dancing with friends or being chased in a game of freeze-tag, [...]

  12. [...] 2.  Expensive running shoes lead to the very problems they’re supposed to correct, and the healthiest way to run is as close to barefoot as possible. 3.  Somehow, kindheartedness and the ability to run long distances are intimately related. [...]

  13. Steven says:

    Also, check out http://www.InvisibleShoe.com … Free "how to make huaraches" videos, DIY huaraches kits, and custom-made
    huaraches running sandals.

  14. [...] are where we experience the first signs of aging, on a daily basis they work hard for us. As Michael Sandler states in his article on barefoot running, “When you feel the ground, you unlock the hidden potential within.” When children are [...]

  15. [...] talked about barefoot running. It’s becoming popular to the point that you can approach it with some shoes that fit your [...]

  16. My brother suggested I may like this web site. He was once totally right. This put up truly made my day. You can not consider simply how so much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  17. Hello, Neat post. There is an issue along with your website in internet explorer, could test this? IE still is the marketplace chief and a big part of other people will omit your excellent writing due to this problem.

  18. [...] may sound counterintuitive, but when I was living abroad I saw the cultural advantages of shopping more often and buying less [...]

  19. [...] willing to give and also open to receive. I finally feel ready to explore my desires instead of running from them. I’m able to experience myself as a beautiful person for my own sake, not just so [...]

  20. smartweasel says:

    Just another market piece….!!! Helping kids with adhd??? very cheesy story, Lame!

  21. Joe Sparks says:

    Checkout Pose Method of running. Running is a skill, need to learn how to run. Chris McDougall recently honored Dr. Romanov and his contribution to changing the way we run.

Leave a Reply